Platforms: Xbox 360/Playstation 3/PC Genre: Action/Sandbox
Developer: Volition Publisher: Deep Silver
Platform Reviewed on: Xbox 360
The premise of Saints Row IV is that you have progressed from being the leader of the Saints to being the President of the United States and while in office, an alien race invades and abducts the vast majority of your gang. While attempting to rescue the fellow gang members, the protagonist also gets captured and this is when the game begins to flesh out the plot as well as sets you loose inside of a simulated version of Steelport. This simulated version of the city has been set up by Zinyak, leader of the alien race known as the Zin, and it is in this city that the player will spend most of their time.
Following the Saints Row tradition, the city is a playground for the player to enjoy, with various activities in which to engage and a plethora of collectibles to find. One large distinction between this installment of the franchise and the previous entries is that some of the collectibles are only found around the city after certain missions have been completed. Among the items for you to locate throughout the city are data clusters used for upgrading your super powers, audio logs belonging to various characters from the game, statues of Zinyak to destroy, and text logs which combine to form a text-based game within the game itself. While that may not seem like many collectibles, there are more than 1200 data clusters to locate across the simulated city. As far as the activities are concerned, some fan favourites such as Tank Mayhem and Insurance Fraud are back, but there are also some new activities to keep you on your toes. To name a few, there are UFO and Telekinesis Mayhem games, Professor Genki’s activities have taken a new form, a fight club requiring you to put your powers to the test, a handful of strictly co-op events, and a time trial foot race at super speeds. There are several other new activities to take part in, but it would take the fun out of it if I revealed all of them.
There are numerous other staples which have returned in Saints Row IV, such as customizable characters with multiple voice options, many of the stores you have come to love (Friendly Fire, Rim Jobs, Image As Designed, etc), the experience meter as well as the upgrades to your standard abilities which become unlocked as you level up, and of course the signature sense of humour and foul language for which the series has become known. All of these are welcome features and will help fans feel right at home in Saints Row IV while the first few levels are introductory and tutorial in nature, allowing players who may be new to the series to become accustomed to the way the game operates. Because of this, the game strikes a near-perfect balance between introducing the mechanics and allowing players to play the game the way they like.
One aspect of Saints Row IV which is incredibly refreshing to see in a game like this is the way missions interact with the various events throughout Steelport. That may seem like an odd statement to make, but a large number of the optional missions and some of the mandatory missions require you to play through different activities. If you happen to have completed those activities prior to starting that mission, the game does not force you to return to the activity and complete it again, it simply scratches that objective off of the mission’s list. If you have completed most of the activities in a single region of the city, there is a chance that you may be able to complete an optional mission simply by speaking once more to the person who gives you the mission without having to go anywhere. It is nice to see a game reward the player for completing optional content before being forced to do it. This is another method where Saints Row IV allows players to get into the action a little more quickly if they desire, a choice which is a pleasant change from being forced to do everything at a game’s strict pace. While there are some variations of activities which only unlock after completing specific storyline missions, it will immediately unlock all events of that style across Steelport.
The plot utilized in Saints Row IV will likely result in a very divided audience. With the ability to switch between the simulation and reality, there are unmistakable similarities between this game and The Matrix. Of course, Saints Row is known for having pop culture references, and this title certainly does not shy away from that trend. If anything, the similarities between this game and The Matrix are only embraced and made even more noticeable on purpose. It is this fact that will likely leave players absolutely reveling in the plot and the way Saints Row IV carries itself, or thinking of the game as unoriginal and absurd. Due to the way the game has been marketed, outlining and highlighting all of the over-the-top action and content, the chances are higher that those who pick up the game will enjoy it based on already knowing what to expect, even if they have no experience with the franchise. There may still be the odd player who may be unaware of what they are getting themselves into but these players will likely be in the minority. The story itself did not feel quite as strong as the previous games in the franchise, but it is still an enjoyable storyline nonetheless.
While on the topic of pop culture references, it is only fair to mention some of the notable inclusions in this title. You will encounter nods from both movies and games, ranging from Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and The Matrix, to Teen Titans, Mortal Kombat, Fallout 3, Halo, and Metal Gear Solid. Some of these references are fairly obvious and hard to miss, while others are a little more subtle and require some familiarity with a game or movie in order to catch. However, one thing that is certain is that regardless of how obvious the references are, they are always enjoyable and will illicit a chuckle or smirk from the player when they notice it.
The inclusion of superpowers and Crackdown-esque abilities is definitely a new approach for the series, and one that makes Saints Row IV enjoyable, but there are also some issues that arise from how the simulation and life inside of it have been approached. You will notice that landscapes, AI characters walking down the sidewalks, and cars all become pixelated at random times, serving as a reminder that you are inside of a simulated city. It is understandable why this technique was used and initially it seems like a charming feature, but that feeling quickly wears off and it begins to feel out of place even though it makes sense contextually. As you play, you may find yourself wishing that the bricks in the wall you’re beside simply stayed still rather than moving every few seconds, or that the cars and people you pass didn’t become random chunks of pixels as you moved past them. If it was not happening as frequently as it does, it may not feel as awkward, but it is very rare to have a second or two when nothing on your screen is pixelated.
Another issue I frequently encountered throughout the game is momentary freezing during or immediately after an auto-save. While it would not freeze for long, everything would stop for a second or two and then commence again, often freezing again for another few seconds immediately after. This primarily occurred around auto-saves but it also happened on occasion when an achievement was unlocked. Initially I assumed it was merely from reading all the data from the disc, but even after installing the game onto my Xbox’s hard drive, the game continued to freeze up for short periods of time. Fortunately, those are my only gripes with the game, and the rest of my experience was incredibly positive.
A large percentage of the game’s cast is comprised of previously introduced characters, and a number of missions within the game refer back to instances from the three previous games. While players who are new to the franchise are capable of being introduced to the series with this title, they may be a little confused by some characters who reappear but do not have much explanation behind them as fans will recognize them and likely recall their stories. That is not to say that there is no explanation at all, but it is highly recommended that you play the previous three games in the series before playing the fourth installment for maximum enjoyment.
In regards to how superpowers are handled within the game, they are powerful enough to encourage the player to utilize them, but there are recharge times, meaning that the player must vary their attacks, or at least combine superpowers and weaponry during battles. There are several varities of each superpower you unlock, some of which are suspending a number of enemies in the air, stealing life from them before tossing them away, charging your body and the surrounding area with fire, and allowing you to shoot blasts of ice to freeze opponents in a radius. Due to this variety within the powers, it can be a lot of fun to take on a large group of aliens or enemies and proceed to use 4 or 5 different superpowers against them. This is exactly the kind of behaviour that is often missed when a game offers choice in weaponry as people will stick to one or two primary weapons, but because of how ludicrous this game is (in the best way possible), players will want to experiment. As previously mentioned, these superpowers can be upgraded as well, increasing the damage, blast radius, duration, or decreasing the charge time, but purchasing those upgrades requires you to locate data clusters from across the city.
New to this game is the option to “romance” the different characters in your gang. When outside of the simulation and back on your ship, you can speak to your homies and obtain optional missions, but there is also the option to romance them, with each character having their own unique cutscene that plays out. It is a small addition, but it helps add more personality to each unique character in your gang, as well as adding some extra humour.
People who are a fan of the Saints Row series, or those who are looking for an enjoyable game that encourages them to be ridiculous will find Saints Row IV to be a positive experience. Those looking for a serious, or thought-provoking experience may want to look at another game… unless that thought is “I hate aliens and hitting them with a Tentacle Bat makes me feel better about it.” Despite slight freezing issues and some overzealous pixelation, the game is a fantastic experience that will have the player smiling at every turn. There is no shortage of content, and as usual, the voice acting is superb. It is evident as you play that everyone involved in creating Saints Row IV thoroughly enjoyed themselves during the process and the result is a game that will only strengthen the adoration for the Saints Row franchise. The game is true to the Saints Row name, and whether you want a game that you can play for 30 minutes at a time or several hours, whether it be a solo campaign, or with a friend in co-op, Saints Row IV makes the Saints proud.
- Phenomenal voice acting
- Humour utilized perfectly
- Familiar faces reintroduced from previous games
- Variety in activities
- Paul (play the game and you will understand)
- Momentary freezing issues
- Frequent pixelation to remind player they are inside of simulation
- New players may not understand re-introduced characters and/or scenarios
Eric is an editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.